Asia’s banking and finance sector is still actively hiring – evidence that particular skills are in demand in the region despite the current global economic climate. Christine Wright, Operations Director for Hays in Asia, discusses the trends and current opportunities across the region from the latest Hays Quarterly Report.
Financial controllers, relationship managers and auditors are among the in-demand skills across Asia’s banking and finance sector. This is one finding from our Hays Quarterly Report for the October to December quarter, which is now available.
Looking firstly at demand in China, Finance Managers and FP&A Managers are needed due to growth in SMEs and newly-invested companies, which are looking for guidance in financial matters and to improve business performance. Financial Controllers are always in demand to ensure a business is profitable.
As more businesses prefer their accounting staff to have business sense and conduct business analysis and controlling, Commercial Managers and candidates with business finance experience are also in demand.
Given global economic conditions, the emphasis is on cash flow management with financing and investing critical. This is therefore creating a demand for candidates in treasury roles. Internal Auditors are also in demand as more requirements come into place regarding compliance and multinational companies, in particular, are hiring for these roles to determine potential risks in their business.
Meanwhile, high-level tax candidates are rare to find and hard to keep, and these roles are always important for any business. In some project-based industries, candidates are required to have project accounting experience, which is fuelling demand for Project Controllers.
In China’s banking sector Commodities Traders are in demand as trading houses start to strengthen their business in China and are therefore adding to their headcount. Candidates in corporate finance operation are also in demand because some of the banks are moving this function from Hong Kong to China.
But the banks are still cautious about lending given the current global market, which is fuelling the demand for risk and credit professionals with experience and expertise in the Chinese market.
Relationship Managers are in strong demand as always as they drive in business for the banks and Wholesales Banking Relationship Managers are also needed as this role is core for business success and profitability. So relationship management in wholesale banking has been a key focus for most of the banks.
Compliance candidates are also sought after as banking is strongly regulated in China by the government and compliance is an area of great importance and constantly demands recruits.
Private equity, venture capital and investment banking business in the primary market are under pressure and there will be some restructuring activities creating a demand for Investment Associates.
While the pace of development in Southern China is still strong and quite a lot of banks are expanding in this region, the downside is a shortage of local candidates. Employers are therefore advised to be more open-minded in their candidate selection.
Turning to Hong Kong, skills in demand include Financial Controllers, treasury reporting, Product Controllers, Valuation Controllers and business finance candidates due to the tightened regulatory requirements imposed by local regulators and higher standards in balance sheet integrity imposed by the banks.
Candidates in regulatory reporting, management reporting, compliance and operational risk are also in short supply as the rollout of Basel III and newer regulations places greater pressures on finance professionals in terms of the liquidity monitoring and balance sheet control.
Corporate Banking Relationship Managers are in demand as banks are going back to traditional core banking revenue streams, and start-up asset management organizations from China and overseas are looking for qualified license holder professionals in Hong Kong due to SFC regulations. Therefore, there’s also an increased need for Corporate Finance Responsibility Officers.
Within private banking, Wealth Management Relationship Managers are also in demand as banks grow their PWM coverage. Candidates in asset management and client relations and sales are also in short supply due to Asset Managers looking for ways to grow their exposure and distribution coverage.
Meanwhile, there’s a need for temporary contractors in various operational and project roles. This is due to some organizations securing project work.
In Singapore, Internal Auditors are in demand as corporate governance remains a focus following the introduction of new regulations. Businesses are also investing heavily in this space and investment in technology within banking means IT Auditors are needed to guard against the new risks.
Some banks are still offshoring their functions, so Product Control specialists are in demand. Regulatory Reporting candidates are also needed since as regulations continue to tighten, companies are still investing in this function. Complying with FATCA and Dodd Frank has brought renewed pressure.
Cost Accountants are being sought due to the continued focus on cost reduction making these candidates a valued asset.
Meanwhile, Project Accountants, who can re-engineer processes and systems to ultimately bring about cost savings and streamline departments, are also in demand.
Banking experts in Operational Risk, Compliance and Credit Risk are in high demand due to the regulatory pressures the banking sector is facing. There is a high importance placed on ensuring the banks are following processes and that their clients and markets do not pose a threat in terms of bankruptcy. Candidates in Settlements and Reconciliations are also in high demand.
In Japan, Financial Planning and Analysis “FP&A” staff, FP&A Managers, Accountants, Financial Controllers in small to mid-sized companies and Finance Managers in mid-sized companies are in demand.
Bilingual FP&A candidates remain in short supply, but with employers approving new headcount for this specialist area competition is building to get the best candidates. The demand results from a return to a focus on growth rather than maintenance across most industries.
Good junior to senior-level candidates are in short supply in accounting and FP&A. However, there are Auditors from the Big 4 on the market who are getting these positions in commercial companies. But as the ageing population decreases Japan’s candidate pool, the demand for junior candidates is increasing and the battle is becoming fiercer for newly qualified candidates.
Within Japan’s banking sector there is demand for Compliance Officers (advisory, central and control room) and Corporate Credit Risk Managers. Risk management is likely to remain strong as regulators increase scrutiny of the industry and banks seek to manage risks more tightly through the recruitment of experienced specialists.
Demand is also strong for good sales people, particularly Corporate Banking Relationship Managers with highly specialised knowledge and processes in trade finance, project finance, export finance and cash management businesses.
In securities, experienced bilingual fixed income securities candidates are sought, particularly sales people from Institutional or Distribution backgrounds who can generate revenue quickly.
Asset Managers (financial institution and pension) and mutual fund wholesale candidates with strong networks are in demand as firms seek to take market share from competitors. Candidates in client services and reporting are also sought.
In the middle office and operations area bilingual Middle Office Specialists with three to seven years experience in similar functions such as trade support, client service as well as settlements, particularly for the fixed income business, are also in demand. This is a specialist area and will take time to train candidates so the preference is to hire experienced people who can hit the ground running.
Meanwhile, in Malaysia there is a demand for Finance Managers, Finance Analysts, Audit Managers, as well as CFOs in Malaysia due to a shortage of candidates in these areas with the appropriate level of soft skills.
As finance moves to become more of a business unit there is now a greater need for good communications skills and the ability to work with all stakeholders within a company. Candidates with Big 4 experience are preferable.
Vacancy activity is also taking place in Asia’s specialised finance technology market. For instance, in China Core Java Developers are consistently in demand to build performance critical platforms in IT with Java seen as the technology of preference. C++ Developers are also in demand for the same reason, but some larger firms are starting to shift to the more robust and maintainable technology in Java.
C# Developers are seeing increased demand due to the complexity of their frameworks with WPF being most critical. Team Leaders in both equities and fixed income have been seen to be critical to the growth of booming local business in securities and futures.
There is a trend for local candidates in finance IT to seek out opportunities to move into the revenue generating markets, for example, Hong Kong, Singapore and the US, as well as the high profile local firms in China.
Meanwhile, in Hong Kong the vast majority of investment banks are now operating with Java and client side C#. As the banks re-engineer or add functionality to their user interfaces there is a requirement for technology candidates such as C# Front End Developers (WPF). Java Developers are also in demand for the same reasons.
Unix, Systems and Network Engineers are needed due to replacement hires; every financial organisation requires these technologists and this creates a lot of new opportunities for candidates in this field.
Singapore needs Technical Specialists, Business Analysts (IT Risk), Vendor Lead Analysts and Project Managers, Application Developers and Infrastructure Leaders.
Front office technical candidates continue to be in demand within the commodities and emerging markets space. Vendor-led Technology specialists continue to be sought after with Murex, Wall Street and Core Banking Software experience the most desired skill sets within Singapore.
Business Analysts with good business knowledge within risk and operational reporting are also in demand due to more stringent regulatory requirements being introduced.
Meanwhile, Singapore’s contracting market is becoming more active and there has been a significant increase in hiring across both infrastructure and front office development-related roles.
Front Office Developers with good FX skills are still in demand and some banks are looking for extremely strong functional programmers who have the ability to interact with a user base of theoretical Computer Scientists and Mathematicians to drive innovative application development. Local and regional banks are bucking the trend in terms of hiring and are continuing to make strategic or niche hires across both infrastructure and application development at a steady pace.
The global market is impacting local hiring decisions in nearly all of the major investment banks. However strategic hiring will continue in what is traditionally the quietest quarter of the year due to budgeting, although often the final approval will go as high as the CIO for justification.
With more businesses focusing on meeting their required regulations in Japan, candidates in IT risk, compliance and audit are in demand.
In support, Front Office Applications candidates are in demand which is often driven by turnover and movement in the market.
In infrastructure, we have seen several businesses upgrading their data centre and networks, which has led to demand for Network Engineers, System Engineers and Architects.
We have seen steady activity throughout the year from the investment banks, while IT vendors have been hiring throughout the year and this is not expected to change this quarter. Meanwhile, e-commerce business is steadily growing and hiring, although employers will only hire top tier candidates.
In general, many managers are talking about upgrade hiring next year in order to up-skill key positions within their teams. They are also currently planning their strategic projects and hiring for next year.
The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Asian Banking & Finance. The author was not remunerated for this article.
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Christine Wright is the Managing Director of Hays in Asia. She has 20 years’ experience in executive recruitment and is currently responsible for the day-to-day management and growth of the businesses in Japan, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, and India.